In The Ticket, from Williamsburg-based filmmaker Ido Fluk, a blind man wakes up one morning inexplicably able to see. For James (played by Dan Stevens), this awakens a hunger for a much different life than the one he has—more money, a better car, a hotter lover—and he works fast to boost his material circumstances. But James’s new ambitions are often attained to the detriment of others, from his family and friends to the pawns of a new financial scheme, so it might be too late when he starts to recognize a “better” life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Brooklyn Magazine sat down with Fluk ahead of the film’s opening this Friday, April 7.
Brooklyn Magazine: You have said the inspiration for The Ticket came from being in a sound suite where the visual malfunctioned on a film but the sound stayed on, that it inspired you to consider visual impairment.
Ido Fluk: That’s the formal inspiration, yes. But this film could have just as easily been a movie about someone winning the lottery or becoming famous overnight. How they crash and burn. It was also the recession, we started writing this at the height of it in 2008. Brooklyn was filled with these “Cash For Houses” fliers everywhere. People were trying to profit from that type of financial despair that others were going through.
That was more the driving theme for you then a blind man gaining sight—that was just sort of a symbolic?
Yes. It was a combination of all those things, and at the same time, I’ve also always been interested in the idea of the American Dream. How it’s sold as a bill of rights. You work hard, you attain, you buy your ticket, you win the lottery. The lottery is a scam. You can get hit by lightning, you have better chances of that. It’s a distorted view of how people move ahead in this world—which usually happens because people are born in the right place, they are lucky enough to be of the right race, of the right sex, of the right circumstance.
What was it about James (Dan Stevens) that made him start to change so much when he regains sight?
People change when they are given something this big—no matter how good or moral they are. I think it’s really human to stay locked in your experience when something big happens. But he is a very moral character, very human. He starts to see other people, not just himself. In addition to that, this is someone who is a believer. He’s been going to church, he’s been praying to God every single night, so you know, these values start to pop up for him.
God is a major theme in the film. Can you talk a bit more about that?
I think God bleeds really well into film because of the temporal elements a film has, there is something about it that makes space for the internal question of God in a really meaningful way. And I think God is not becoming less relevant, God is becoming more relevant. When you see how it affects people’s lives nowadays, the connection between politics and church, the connection between money and the church, which is explored in this film. It seems to offer [people] an interpretation of some pivotal part of our society.
And there is something super Biblical about the kind of test this character goes through, that I think blindness, in a primal way, kind of connects to. A lot of people watch this movie like, “Oh, this is like a modern re-telling of the story of Job.” You know, man is tested by providence as a believer.
Sam (Malin Akerman), James’s wife, is a really unique character. At first it seems like she is totally giving and nurturing, but it becomes clear it’s not always coming from a selfless place. And she continues to to seek companionship from people who can’t see her.
It was really important for us not to have a single goody two-shoes in this movie. What kind of person hooks up with a man because she finds him pathetic? Or, sorry-looking, as he says? There is an original sin to this relationship. We constructed Sam as a character who has an attraction to being a crutch to other people. Malin does a really beautiful job of creating this layered character. While Dan in this movie starts looking one way and gets hotter and hotter, she let us make her as plain as we could. It’s still Malin Akerman so like, good luck, but…
There were a few scenes really emotional scenes, very physical scenes, like when James kind of freaks out about his sight changing. How did you approach making space for that to happen?
This was really all about collaborating with Dan. Saying, what do you need to make this happen? With such high-caliber talent, you’re not some puppet master, you create the conditions, you give the space, the respect, you make sure everyone around respects the work, and they just go for it. And it meant clearing the set. I hate working with loud, busy sets. There is a tradition to making sex scenes that is just staying with the most skeletal version of the crew who you need to make the scene—for me that’s how you shoot an [entire] movie.
Did you rehearse?
Well, Malin and Dan, gave me a week of rehearsal for the film. No one gets rehearsals anymore in indie film! The actors, they land on your set on day one. They gave me a week! They lived in the house, they didn’t sleep there, but they hung out in it. They went dancing at some weird place where people dance swing upstate. Nobody realized who they were, but you could tell they were from out of town.
And how did you prepare Dan and Oliver Platt (who plays James’s friend Bob) for portraying visually impaired people?
We spoke to a lot of visually impaired people. We wanted to make sure it’s not going to feel like an exploitative portrayal. We sent Oliver and Dan to a telemarketing workplace for visually impaired people, which we recreated in the film. They use headphones where on one side you hear the client, and on the other side you hear the computer. The computer speaks like five times faster than normal, so you hear fast-forward computer voice reading out loud the interface, then on the other side you have the person you have to talk to. You put it on and wonder how people make sense of this! One of the best things about Oliver’s performance [as a character who remains blind throughout the whole film] is that he doesn’t overdo it.
James’s POV, like in the very beginning where he starts to regain sight. How did you approach that?
In the script it was black. Seven pages of black. Good luck producing a film with that! What we tried to do was to recreate how this particular woman had described her experience of lack of sight. We think of blindness as a binary thing, you’re either blind or you’re not blind. But there’s a ton of variety, no two visually impaired people see the same way. Most do see some things, they see color, shapes, light, the general ambience of a room. Shifting rays of light penetrate through.
So for [his POV] at the beginning, we started out by shooting different types of tanks. We built these tanks and put different liquids in, then we shot through them. Zach [Galler, the DP] Gino [Fortebuono, the production designer] and I tried to create these organic-looking textures that have dimension, movement, light. And you know when you close your eyes and you have these floaters? We had a thing of sea monkeys and put them inside the tank too, so we could create floaters. Sea monkeys kind of look like floaters when they are out of focus.
The aesthetic of the film also seems to change at different points in the story.
We split the movie into these “camera acts” that had different rules. The first act, as James regains his sight, is overexposed and the focus breathes. It’s handheld, softer, shallower in terms of depth of field, more expressive. More human. As he becomes this new person we weighed down the camera, put it on a track, cooled down the palette, and moved to an aperture that allowed more sharpness. Within that, there is the home life which is always kind of warm and womb-like, and there are the scenes with Jessica (Kerry Bishé) about the male gaze, because he has this new love story that is all about seeing. The third act was taking all that and making it uncomfortable. Cooling the palette even more, making it darker. Making it as if someone had kicked the tripod.
It was effective, and visually very beautiful.
Thank you. I hope people go see it in the theater. I think it’s that kind of film, this is literally a movie about sight and sound. So, I think it works well in the theater. But any director who ever has been interviewed says that, right?